Clippers know they have a long road ahead as trip begins

It's slightly more than halfway through the season and already there have been some defining moments and games for the Clippers.

There was the NBA-best 17-game winning streak, and victories over such teams as the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and the Lakers.

And now the Clippers are about to enter another defining period, a season-high eight-game, 13-day trip that could determine the course of their season.

This will be the longest trip for the Clippers since an 11-game excursion during the 2010-11 season. It starts in Minnesota on Wednesday night

During this trip, the Clippers could get injured guards Chris Paul (bone bruise in right kneecap) and Chauncey Billups (tendinitis left foot) back into the lineup, providing them with even more ammunition.

"It's going to be a tough stretch, especially still missing Chris and Chauncey," Blake Griffin said after practice Tuesday. "But we've shown what we're capable of doing. We have to come out and have that intensity. It started in practice today. We have to carry everything over from the [Portland] game on Sunday into this road trip."

Only two of the eight teams they will face on the trip — Miami (28-13) and New York (27-15) — have winning records.

But the Clippers, who are 13-8 on the road, have lost four games to teams that currently have losing records.

"We know not to judge anybody before we go in and play them," Griffin said. "We have to play everybody the same way and prepare ourselves before we really look at everybody else. And as long as we take care of ourselves — our rotations and coming out with the right defensive intensity — I think we'll be OK."

The first stop is Minnesota (17-24), which is 1-9 in its last 10 games. But the Timberwolves get Coach Rick Adelman back after he missed three weeks to be with his ailing wife.

The Clippers play at Toronto (16-29) Friday, but that could be a challenge after the Raptors, at home, defeated the Lakers on Jan. 20.

Then the Clippers play at Boston on Super Bowl Sunday. The Celtics are 21-23 and have lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (torn right knee ligament) for the season, but they're still tough enough at home to have beaten the Heat in double overtime Sunday.

The Washington Wizards (11-32), whom the Clippers play Monday, are getting healthy and are playing better basketball, having won six of 10 since point guard John Wall returned from a knee injury. They played the Clippers tough in a 94-87 loss at Staples Center on Jan. 19.

The Clippers will play at Orlando (14-30) on Feb. 6, facing a Magic team that beat the Clippers in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Then it's on to play the defending NBA champion Heat on Feb. 8 and the Knicks on Feb. 10, before finishing the trip at Philadelphia (18-26) on Feb. 11.

Somewhere along the way, the Clippers are hopeful that Paul and Billups will return.

Paul has been getting therapy, but hasn't practiced yet after missing the last four games and seven of the last nine.

Billups practiced Tuesday and got involved in some contact. Billups, 36, has played in only three games this season, the last on Dec. 3.

"Yeah, there is a possibility," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about Paul and Billups playing on the trip. "I don't know when or if that's going to happen. We're just going to be a day-at-a-time thing."

Eric Bledsoe has been starting in place of Paul, and he has been asked to be more vocal on the court. That's a tough challenge for the 23-year-old point guard because he's naturally quiet.

"Yelling at older guys, our veterans with way more experience than me, is definitely a hard thing to do," Bledsoe said. "They tell me all the time, 'Speak up.' So coming from them, it's very hard because I think they've got kids my age."

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